AMPAS president Sherak promises a younger, more diverse Academy

Posted by · 3:51 pm · October 7th, 2011

Last week, Sasha Stone held one of her Oscar Roundtable discussions at Awards Daily, where one of the issues raised was the Academy’s recent flurry of rule changes, particularly in the Best Picture category.

I responded as follows: “What concerns me is that the frantic adjustment and re-adjustment of the rules in the last two years alone indicates an organisation with no sense of consistency or confidence in itself. Solid, well-run, influential institutions don”t keep shifting the goalposts like this. This is supposedly the most senior, prestigious collective of film professionals in the world – they should be calling the shots, but instead they look desperately concerned about how they”re perceived.”

Mark Harris put it more tartly: “They”ve been throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, and all it”s gotten them is a shit-covered wall.”

I thought back to these words when reading this Variety piece about AMPAS president Tom Sherak’s latest statement on the future of the Academy, in which he pledges to “take this organization into the next decade,” by recruiting a younger and more culturally diverse membership, launching a new website and incorporating new media into their regular processes.

On the face of it, these all sound like worthy commitments. That they’re considering introducing electronic voting to the Oscar race should maximize the campaign period, perhaps allowing voters more time to catch up on their screeners. A younger, more representative (and perhaps more professionally active) membership could also have a positive effect on the awards, though if that means signing up more members in the Russell Brand vein, one might wish for more selectivity. (“It’s not easy to get into the Academy,” Sherak proudly insists.)

By the time, however, that he gets into the umpteenth rehash of the Academy’s we-need-younger-viewers routine — with Sherak citing “more aggressive” marketing to this end — I can’t help wishing they, and the Oscars in particular, would stop fretting over their secondary audiences and accept themselves for what they are. This open courting of a younger demographic reads more desperate than daring; it doesn’t seem the strategy of an institution in control. Kids didn’t flock around the Oscars in my day, even with far fewer entertainment options; it’s delusional to think any formatting adjustments would make them start now.

I am heartened, however, by Sherak’s emphatic assertion that the Academy “will never change” its practise of handing out all 24 competitive statuettes on the telecast — cutting them is a suggested fix I repeatedly hear from pundits and commenters who care little for the fact that ditching technical categories would not only break each ceremony’s competitive narrative, but undermine the Oscars’ celebration of their own industry. Sherak’s refusal suggests that deep down inside, for all the organization’s insecure talk of teen appeal, he knows they can ill afford to lose the geeks.

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